PM seeks to defuse tensions

Amid increasing tension in Greek society and politics, Prime Minister George Papandreou announced on Wednesday the formation of a cross-party parliamentary committee with the aim of rebuilding trust in the country?s institutions and countering cases of extreme behavior by politicians, protesters and the police.

Addressing his ministers during a cabinet meeting, Papandreou expressed concern about the fraught atmosphere on Greece?s political scene, which has led some citizens to target MPs at public functions or at their homes, and the frequent social disturbances, as seen during last week?s clashes between protesters and police in central Athens.

The police were criticized last week for being overzealous, prompting Papandreou to call for the functioning of the force to also be scrutinized by the parliamentary committee. Questions about police conduct intensified yesterday when it emerged that journalist Manolis Kypraios lost his hearing after a stun grenade launched by a riot squad officer exploded beside him while he was covering clashes between protesters at Syntagma Square and police on June 15.

?We all have a duty to protect social cohesion, peace and democratic stability,? said Papandreou. ?I ask that all of us — politicians, intellectuals and citizens — guarantee the unfettered functioning of our democracy, free public speech and dialogue, justice and, finally, the freedom of our society.?

The premier voiced alarm about the increasing number of attacks by voters on politicians, which has caused a row between ruling PASOK and the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), which the Socialist party accuses of instigating some of the incidents. SYRIZA has condemned violence and denied any role in the attacks. There have also been concerns about attempts by protesters to prevent MPs entering Parliament to vote on crucial austerity measures.

?Blocking access, violence and attempts at ideological terrorism have no place in our democracy, public spaces, universities, within the state, in public squares, neighborhoods or in the mass media,? the prime minister said. Papandreou asked for a cross-party parliamentary committee to be set up immediately to discuss and agree on policies that would ?protect institutions, uphold the law [and] better organize public gatherings,? while also focusing on ?the operation of the police? the state and society.?